The Big Ten Conference announced its new two-division alignment Wednesday night with Ohio State and Michigan separated and Penn State grouped with teams mostly located east of Chicago.
But the bigger news for Nittany Nation was the establishment of an annual cross-division rivalry game for each Big Ten team. Penn State drew Nebraska, creating a matchup of two of the most iconic names in college football.
The Cornhuskers, who will begin Big Ten play in 2011 when the new alignment goes into effect, were admitted earlier this summer as the Big Ten's 12th team, which enabled officials to create a conference championship game between the winners of the two divisions. And they get to play the Nittany Lions every year, starting in 2011 at Beaver Stadium.
"We are pleased to have Nebraska as Penn State's annual crossover game," athletic director Tim Curley said in a statement. "We have had outstanding contests with Nebraska in the past and look forward to hosting the Cornhuskers."
In one of the as-yet-unnamed divisions, Penn State was joined by Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana. The other division sports Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, and Northwestern.
Most predictions about the new alignment had Michigan and Michigan State with Penn State, and Wisconsin and Nebraska with teams in the western half of the league.
However, conference commissioner Jim Delany, who made the announcement nationally on the Big Ten Network, said competitive equality was the most important factor in establishing the two divisions.
"We wanted each player, each coach, each fan base, and the media to look at these divisions and say they're equally tough," Delany said. "This is an opportunity to play in the Big Ten championship game and win a berth either in the Rose Bowl or in the national championship game, so we thought competitive equality was No. 1."
Under terms of the new alignment, the eight conference games will consist of games against each member of a team's own division (a total of five), the crossover game, and two games against teams in the other division. The Big Ten released team schedules for the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Delany said conference athletic directors were exploring adding a ninth conference game in 2015.
Wednesday night's announcement put an end to speculation about what might happen to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, one of the best in college football, which dates back to 1935.
Delany said the two teams would continue to play each other in the final game of the regular season, with the possibility of a rematch the very next week if they win their respective divisions.
"I think it's candid to say that we looked at different places, but we never did look at an October date," he said. "We looked at a mid-November date and at a final season date. And basically we decided to go with the final season date because we felt that in part that was a way to maintain the tradition."
Delany said the schedule makers tried to preserve as many trophy games as possible. However, one of them, the Land Grant Trophy game between Penn State and Michigan State, is not on the schedule for 2011 and 2012.
The first Big Ten title game will be played Dec. 3, 2011, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Curley said he was pleased with the final divisional alignment, which he said would "add a new dimension to Big Ten football . . . and add to the tremendous interest and excitement for all Penn State, Big Ten, and college football fans."
He said the university was excited that the annual game with Ohio State would be maintained because it has "ultimately determined the Big Ten champion in each of the last five years."
Delany said that while "no final alignment could possibly satisfy all of our constituents, we believed we have achieved a very exciting result."
The Big Ten's Big Change
The expanded Big Ten football conference will split into two divisions to accommodate 12 teams (thanks to the addition of Nebraska) for the 2011 season and create its first championship game, which will be played in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. Big Ten teams will play eight conference games in each of the next two seasons, but that could increase in the future. Ohio State and Michigan will be placed in different divisions, and they could play in the title game as well as their regularly scheduled game on the last day of the Big Ten season.
The Big Ten's Divisions
Michigan Ohio State
Nebraska Penn State
Michigan State Illinois
Northwestern Indiana Story, E4.